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Tom T.Hall keeps a rappin'

By Joel Bernstein, October 1997

Page 2...

He has a different word for it. "I'm a stylist. That's the way we get away with it. That's a euphemism for people who can't sing. I never attempted any grand and glorious vocal feats."

Some who study Hall's lyrics have commented on his ability to be non-judgmental. Others might describe it as an ability to cut through all the emotion of issues and get to the essence. Hall says, "I'm not a judge, I'm a witness." And, he says, "I found out, in writing story songs, if you don't write down exactly what happened, you're not writing, you're relating."

He adds, "You've got to be careful to not be too clever and upstage the song. There are times I'll tell a story, and someone will respond by telling a joke. Some people don't know the difference."

Hall is not a person to dwell in the past. "People are always assuming I'm disenchanted with music today. I say 'They're not doing heart surgery the way they used to.' Things change. These are good kids, and they're making the kind of music that makes them happy. They all look like movie stars and sing like birds." He adds, though. "The volume. That's the one part of it I don't get. It's all cranked up so loud."

"Home Grown" is an acoustic album, as Hall's music always has been. "We used drums and pianos, but we didn't plug in. How ironic then, that Hall once quit the Grand Ole Opry because they wouldn't let him use drums on stage. "They said I couldn't use the same instruments I used in the studio. There was something illogical about it."

He finds the Nashville song factory mentality more annoying than the musical styles.

"There are five big restraints on songs today. Will it make a good video? Can they dance to it? Is it Politically Correct? Is it radio friendly? Does it fit the artist's image? You can lose a good song because it doesn't meet one of those criteria."

The latest trend in Nashville is that no one can write a song alone. "I've never been a co-writer. I don't know how they do that. Sometimes a song has four publishers and four writers. How do they all get together? There's a lot about this business I don't understand."

Of his new album, he explains "I tried not to go in and prove anything. I'm not grinding any axes in this thing." Of the idea that he's now "alternative," Hall says "those types of labels don't get it. The world is full of music, and it's all kind of mingling."

Two of Hall's biggest hits offer widely contrasting philosophies of life. One says it's "Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine." Another suggests "Faster Horses, Younger Women, Older Whiskey, More Money." Which one does Hall endorse today?

"'Old Dogs' takes precedence. I'm 60 years old. But there was a day when "Faster Horses" was my theme song. I've had a good time."

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